A young woman from Seville with a disability tells of her experience in the educational field, within the ‘Empower Youth Without Limits’ project co-financed by the Erasmus + program of the European Union.
At the headquarters of the Provincial Federation of Associations of People with Physical and Organic Disabilities in Seville (FAMS-COCEMFE Seville), Virginia Lozano, 22, was interviewed on the morning of March 2, 2020. A young student, arrived in the entity to carry out its academic practices of the fourth year of the degree of Business Administration and Management. “I am already planning to finish next year and I would like to be able to do a Master of Community Manager at Loyola Andalucía University. I have spina bifida, which makes me wheelchair, but fortunately it does not limit myself in my day to day, or in doing that we all do”.
In this interview with FAMS-COCEMFE Seville, it is suggested that the 2010-2020 ‘European Strategy on Disability’ states that, in the age group between 16 and 19 years, the rate of people with significant limitations who do not continue their studies stands at 37%, compared to 25% of people with certain limitations, and 17% of people without any limitations. Barriers are continuously found from academic access to employment, so their independence is greatly reduced. Companies continue to associate disability with low productivity, dependency, and costs.
Question. Is this really true or are they just bias? How has your education been?
Answer. I tried to enter a school in front of my house, I am not going to say the name, when I was 3 years old, but the principal who was there at the time told my parents that they did not want people with disabilities at their school because it gaves a very bad image . Therefore, I had no choice but to go to a kindergarten from 3 to 6 years old, when we are supposed to enter into elementary school, and age with which they gave points for having a disability, proximity to the home… Thanks to that I was able to enter and I stayed there until I finished high school. In elementary school, I did pretty well with my peers, but then, in high school, I started to get rejected by them. They didn’t mess with me, but they displaced me, I wasn’t integrated at all. As a result of a project to go to Parliament, they told me that I was going to be a speaker, after a substitute… I arrived at my house overwhelmed, my father spoke to the teacher, and as a result, the teachers also began to make me the rest of the academic year very hard for me to deal with. So I ended up with anxiety attacks, going to the psychologist, taking medication … Now I have it under control because I am almost finishing my degree, as I previously said, and it has been a long time, but I had to faced kind of serious problems. Then I changed to another high school named “Academia Preuniversitaria”, and it went really well. It was another totally different environment, normal, in which I was a “normal” person. I was treated for what I was, a person. Before it was: you do not meet the requirements of beautiful, thin, daughter of … We do not accept you. And now I study at the Loyola University of Andalusia, in which I am doing great.
Q. Have you studied abroad?
A. I have done an Erasmus twice, which is quite ”rare” for people with disabilities to be part of. I suppose this is due to the lack of knowledge of the aids that exist or because sometimes they are not enough. You are required to have a degree of disability of more than 75%. Therefore, a budget of a limited amount plus that percentage of disability does not cover the basic needs of people with such a degree of disability. It is very difficult to do an Erasmus. You have to have financial resources to have personal assistance, which is expensive.
I have been to two different countries. In Norway in 2017, where personal assistance was free, so great. I only had to spend the same amount of money as another student will do in this case. They also lend me an electric wheelchair for free, because my own wheelchair was not adapted to Norwegian weather. This did not happen in the United Kingdom. The assistance cost about 8,000 euros for the four months, plus the wheelchair that I had to rent. I wanted to go to Newcastle (England) in 2018 and I had to reject the opportunity because I could not afford all the expenses, plus the cost of the private university, but with the aids that I asked for, I was finally lucky enough in order to able to do it.
Q. Did you get that information on your own, by an association, the university itself, etc?
A. The university itself has played a fundamental role so that I can make the exchange. They got in touch with the destination universities, personal assistance associations … everything about accommodation and that they also made sure that university was adapted. Regarding aid, I was able to get in contact with different entities also thanks to being a speaker at the First International Congress of Personal Assistance.
A. I have not been to a foreign school, so I do not know if it is due to the fact that it is a university, the educational system is more practical than here. There were more group works. At Newcastle University there are student societies and much more life is done there than in Spain. They have a concept of college aimed at “college life.”
Q. In Spain, just 3% of young people with disabilities access higher education, according to data collected by the Observatory on Disability and Labor Markets in Spain (Odismet, November 2018). Thus, the access of young people with disabilities to higher education is ten points below the rate of higher education presented by young people without disabilities. What do you think is the cause?
A. I think it is due to various factors. First, because if it happens to many like me, they suffer rejection for their disability and when they finish compulsory education they decide not to continue dealing with this type of situations, and probably most od them will not continue their academic formation. And it also influences the family environment, that is, that the disability is normalized in it, that they do not put you a limit when it comes to studying, and that they tell you that you cannot make it, because sometimes we want to overprotect people with disabilities, when in In most cases what is needed is an impulse because the more academic formation we have the easier the path to an independent life will be.
Q. Do you plan to go abroad in the future?
A. I don’t know if I will have more opportunities in the future, but I would like to go abroad. I want to do a master’s degree in community manager at Loyola Andalucía University, the university where I study, and if I am subsequently given the opportunity to work abroad, I would not hesitate to do so.
Q. What would you say to companies that do not want to hire people with disabilities because they think they involve many complications?
A. First, tell them that if they hire a person with a disability, they receive some economic aids, so it benefits them. On the other hand, I don’t think that in the century we are in, that should be a disorder, as long as that person is well-prepared in order to develop the work that person has to do. If I have the same CV as another person that has no disabilities, why are you going to reject me for having a disability and you’re going to take someone else if, maybe, I’m even more prepared to that work than that other person.
Q. Do you think you have to be doubly prepared than anyone else to be given a chance?
A. I think that most people with disabilities do not have all the formation they could have due to all the academic challenges they have to face. But if the company is not into disability and is unaware of the aids they can have as a company; it will obviously be seen as a burden. The employer is not going to hire me.
Q. Do you think that there is a lack of opportunities when it comes to reach good a position on a job?
A. Of course, and more if the person in a situation like mine, a woman with a disability. There is a double problem. If we talk about the glass ceiling, women are not equal; And if that person has also a disability … obviously, if I was hired, I may have been in a lower position than the formation that I have received. Although I am not saying that this is the case for all companies, but in certain cases, companies should be more informed regarding disability, and be objective so as not to stop hiring someone due to being in a wheelchair.
Q. How does this affect on a personal level?
A. I try to be positive and think that what I am doing will help me in the future. It’s reality? Probably not. It produces me impotence, since due to my disability I have to do an extra effort when sitting in a wheelchair for 8 hours, studying like someone else. Also have also studied abroad which is something that only a few in my situation do. It generates powerlessness at least, and on certain occasions, hard as it may sound, it makes me doubt about the society in which I live.
Q. What improvements would you like to have when accessing the world of work?
A. I would like the companies to have more knowledge about when it comes to disability, be more informed, more integration, etc. We must continue working for a full inclusion in the society we live in, which does not mean that we must discriminate positively. I do not want to be treated better or worse, just like the person I am, we are all different, fortunately, and one of the things that differentiates me from the others is that instead of walking, I go in a wheelchair , which I consider should not be something relevant in order not to be able to have the opportunity to access a job.
Q. At FAMS- COCEMFE Seville the Empower Youth Without Limits project in which you took part during the first phase that was carried out. Do you think that these initiatives are useful to facilitate the labor inclusivity of young people with some type of disability? Why?
A. Really, from what I experienced, I would say yes. Alist of suggestions was made in order to be presented to the political authorities, which is the second phase in which I am currently working on. It was useful because we spoke in first person, in addition to being able to involve other young people, through experiences like mine, that many times what we see as possible “limitations” are often impediments that we put ourselves on or that maybe our closest family circle put us into with the intention of “protecting us.”
Q. What message would you give to young people with disabilities so that they keep going and look forward to do a degree?
A. I believe that we should normalize the situation. If the labor world is complicated, and much more so for people with disabilities, unfortunately we have to make a double effort in order to achieve what we want, but if you have perseverance, why can’t you do it? And that they are not limited to their closest environment. I would also say that do not let anyone to limit yourself, you have to be conscious about you’re your capabilities really are and make the most of them.